Grit Nation - The Building Trades Podcast

Diversity Outreach in Construction

March 17, 2021 Michael Burch Season 1 Episode 28
Grit Nation - The Building Trades Podcast
Diversity Outreach in Construction
Show Notes Transcript

Our guest today is a member of Local 1503 and the Community Relations and Outreach Liaison for the NW Carpenters Union, Michael Burch. Michael is a passionate advocate for social justice and equality who works tirelessly to effect positive change on our jobsites, and in our communities. 

We’ll open today’s conversation by looking into what created the need for an outreach liaison position over10 years ago and what effect Michaels efforts have had in creating opportunities for women, people of color, and underrepresented groups within the construction industry in the SW Washington and the Portland metropolitan area. 

Next, we’ll dive into what CBA’s are, and how they are used to push back against decades of systemic racism in the trades in an effort to provide economic opportunities as well as better reflect the people who live in the neighborhoods where much of the work is taking place. 

We’ll then unpack some of the common challenges that apprentices experience on the job and why today’s younger workforce looks beyond just a paycheck when determining whether or not to invest in a career as a professional carpenter. 

Later we discuss what Positive Jobsite Culture Training is and how our council leadership is fostering a program to encourage greater respect and civility on worksites across our region.  

And we’ll wrap up our conversation by introducing you to the numerous auxiliary groups that you can join today to continue building upon the foundation of unity and brotherhood that the UBC was built upon nearly a century and a half ago.

 The Show Notes

NW Carpenters  Website
https://www.nwcarpenters.org/

Community Benefits Information
https://www.cbanw.com/

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Michael Burch:

Hello, my name is Michael Burch. I'm a member of Local 1503 and I've got Grit.

Joe Cadwell:

New another episode of Grit Northwest. I'm Joe Cadwell, President of the Northwest carpenters union, writer, producer and your host of this podcast. The goal of Grit Northwest is to introduce you to the various trades personalities and issues relevant to the construction industry in our region through informative and insightful interviews. Our guest today is a member of Local 1503 and the community relations and outreach liaison for the Northwest Carpenters Union, Michael Burch. Michael is a passionate advocate for social justice and equality who works tirelessly to affect positive change on our job sites and in our communities will open today's conversation by looking into what created the need for an outreach liaison position over 10 years ago, and what effect Michael's efforts have had in creating opportunities for women, people of color and underrepresented groups within the construction industry in the Southwest Washington and Portland metropolitan area. Next, we'll dive into what CBAs are, and how they are used to push back against decades of systemic racism in the trades in an effort to provide economic opportunities as well as better reflect the people who live in the neighborhoods where much of the work is taking place. Well then to unpack some of the common challenges that apprentices experience on the job. why today's younger workforce looks beyond just a paycheck when determining whether or not to invest in a career as a professional carpenter. Later, we'll discuss what positive jobsite culture training is and how our councils leadership is fostering a program to encourage greater respect and civility on work sites across our region. And we'll wrap up our conversation by introducing you to the numerous auxilary groups that you can join today to continue building upon the foundation of unity and brotherhood at UBC was built upon nearly a century and a half ago. And now onto the show. Michael birch, welcome to the show.

Michael Burch:

Thank you, Joe. It's a pleasure to be here.

Joe Cadwell:

It's a pleasure to have you on the show today. So Michael birch, go ahead and tell the listeners if you want a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Michael Burch:

Well, I'm a native Oregonian born and raised here. About 10 years ago, I came to the council to help change the the community perception of what unions are. The carpenters have been, you know, in this community for ages, and the people that I represent African Americans, people of color and young people, which is where I've spent most of my working career trying to help people get on track to a career, they feel that the unions have treated them pretty poorly, right. And the numbers actually represent that women and people of color are vastly outnumbered in the Union trades. And so Doug, Tweety, in his infinite wisdom at the time asked me to come on board and help try to introduce more women and people of color to our career paths. And so I agreed to do that. It was quite a change in career for me. I was in a nonprofit alternative school called Portland Youth Builders. And I thought I'd retire them with that said, Come help out here. He said, it's a risk because you didn't come up through the trades. He said, but if you're willing to take the risk, I'm willing to support you. And he said, We need what you bring. So 10 years later, I'm still here.

Joe Cadwell:

Just for our listeners reference, Michael is referring to Doug Tweedy the former EST of the Northwest Carpenters Union, our current EST Evelyn Shapiro, is now super excited to have you on staff. And I think she's really having a hard time entertaining the thought of you truly retiring. Is that true, Michael?

Michael Burch:

I'm not sure how much of a hard time she's having. But everyone is. I would say she might, in fact find it a bit difficult because no one else does what I do.

Joe Cadwell:

So the 10 years you've been on staff what what is it that you do, Sir?

Michael Burch:

So what I do is, I mean, I can't really sum it up in a word or two, but I was hired to help uplift the name of the carpenters and communities of color and to help drive home what was called what is still called a community benefits agreement or CBA. Not the collective bargaining agreement, but the community benefits agreement, which is like a PLA (Project Labor Agreement) But it has hard goals for apprentices and journey level workers and women and minorities within those apprenticeship and journey level numbers. So as I mentioned earlier, the carpenters Union as well as other unions have had historically a reputation of keeping women and people color out of their ranks. And so when I came on board, it was my job to help them understand that, yes, that was our history. But that's not who we are now. And the work that we've been doing to try to change that narrative is what I've been doing in the community. So working with communities of color, Urban League, NAACP, with municipalities just to try to improve on our, our reputation in the community, and, you know, to show folks that there is room for everyone in our industry, regardless of your gender, your life choice or your code.

Joe Cadwell:

And so the municipalities are those primarily in Oregon, or is this throughout the council, Michael?

Michael Burch:

So for me, it's throughout the state of Oregon, so and mostly in Multnomah County Clackamas in the Vancouver area, basically, the I five corridor counties, and how is your position brought jobs for people of color and underserved minorities in our community to find work within the carpenters union. So my job is Community Relations and Outreach. So I take outreach seriously, because when I started 10 years ago, it's you know, it's probably everyone who's listening knows that you find out about the trades through a family member, a brother, sister, uncle, grandfather, that's how people found out well, there weren't a lot of people of color or women in the industry. So they weren't hearing about it, and being mentored in the industry, like some of their counterparts. So what I did was I started targeted outreach, and schools, I even went to middle schools to start telling kids about the opportunities that existed in our industry that you did not have to pay out of pocket for. So I go into schools, and I say, here's the original four year college, which is the trades. And then here's your, your educational for your college. And this is what it calls for that. And this is what it calls for this. And these are your earnings throughout the next four years of your life and then for the rest of your life. But I began to make a dent in those people who were paying attention to the trades by going into middle schools, which are training center to time, they weren't interested in fundamental schools, because word of mouth was bringing in enough people. There just wasn't a wide variety of diversity. And those folks coming in. So that's where I came in. I started going to all the local high schools, Benson, Roosevelt, Jefferson High School and Centennial schools where there were larger numbers of diverse kids attending.

Joe Cadwell:

And so for someone who took your advice, who saw you maybe in middle school, and then then again, high school and decided to enroll in into the the trades through an apprenticeship program? What do you think some of the biggest challenges are for those people? Once they they go out into the field?

Michael Burch:

Wow, man, laundry list. If they did not look like Well, no, let me back up just a bit. Our industry, as most of you know, is not one where they encourage people to do things, but they're yelling at you, because of the noise. on a job site, people don't, they're not very polite. They tell you what to do that you see yelling at you. So if you're not accustomed to that, if no one has prepared you for that kind of communication, it's kind of hard to want to get up and sit up and go do that, especially when it's raining, it's cold, people are yelling at you, and they're not very respectful. That's a rule. I mean, it just, it's not how most people are accustomed to being told how to do a job or, you know, having a job to them. So that's the first barrier. The second is that, typically speaking, years ago, and then in some cases, still today, it's not very friendly for people of color, or women, or people with alternative lifestyles on the job site. So you have people showing up, we don't look like everyone else. And when you show up, and you're applying for a job as the person you're applying for a job, you walk into the job shack and yes, that person Are you hiring? And they say no, if that person does not look like you, then you think maybe it's because of my gender. Maybe it's because of my skin color. Maybe it's because of the way I look. Then you leave and you go you know in this industry You go from, from superintendent, the superintendent asking for work, right? Are you hiring someone, you get all these knows pretty soon you just stop asking you walk away someone with ties to the industry with a family member, they they can tell you're going to get a lot of nose before you get a yes. But when you get a yes, you have to really show that you're the person that they should have hired for that job. So there's an education that has to occur with people who are non traditional for this industry, that I've, I've hoped that along the way I've helped provide in some of the boards that I'm on. So Portland Youth Builders construct, they help working with Oregon trades women, I help those staffers prepare young people when they're coming into the industry for these kinds of experiences, in the hopes that they don't leave when they get told no three or four times. And they go through those filters that are built in when you don't look like the person that you're asking for it. Yeah.

Joe Cadwell:

Yeah, as we know, we had Mike Hawes on a few episodes back and Mike, you know, pretty much nailed it, when he said the job is hard enough as it is we don't you know, with the the early hours, the hard work, the weather, the the physical challenges of it, but we don't need to have those additional barriers of prejudice and, and implicit bias thrown in.

Michael Burch:

Right, well,right, exactly.

Joe Cadwell:

Success stories?

Michael Burch:

I do have success stories. And before we get there, Joe, I'd like to say that in my time here, we have gone from sort of the very stark realization that I'm reaching out to these programs that have kids of color and women and saying come in, you know, be part of this industry get, you know, some of this great income and these benefits in this retirement package. And then they show up, but they drop out, right. They're just they're disappearing in the first year. And, you know, what we discovered is with, you know, over the course of 10 years, we're losing 60% of our folks. And that's not just people of color, and women that's across the board, we lose 60% in the first year, maybe two years of our apprenticeship because of the job site culture, what you just mentioned. And so over the time that I've been here, we have evolved, the carpenters have been leading the way in terms of trying to make our job sites more welcoming to young apprentices, regardless of what your gender is your life choice or your skin color. We want to make sure that when you show up on a job site, that that job site is welcoming. It wasn't about us telling the job sites, this is what apprentices need. We went to the apprentices and said to them, tell us what you need what you need to see from a job site in order for you to feel good about going the next day. And what and I'm sure Mike probably talked about this, my number one answer would have been money. You know, you're paying me enough money, Chuck. I'm Kevin, okay. That's not what the apprentices said money was number three, they want to feel welcome. They want to feel part of the organization that they're showing up to that's what makes them get up and come back every day. So we are leading the charge in positive jobsite culture, which is a curriculum the carpenters design. Construction careers Pathways Project is a regional effort by a number of municipalities to change the job site cultures, so they've rounded up a bunch of that big general contractors's, a bunch of the bureau purchasing ceos that are in charge of letting contracts they want contractors on the jobs that are going to live up to bringing on more diversity and more apprentices and more people of color and women into the journey level. And they're talking about go through apprentices go through journey level workers, and they're talking about positive job site culture across the region, how to get rid of the graffiti in the blue rooms, how to change how people talk to each other on the sites. They get the work done on time under budget, but they don't treat people like crap. So the efforts that the carpenters started, has blossomed and grown into what is now a regional effort to make Top Sites safer, more productive and more welcoming.

Joe Cadwell:

And that's great to hear that that the program is doing so well. Especially blooming as you said, especially in sort of the toxic soil that we've had. The last few years with the current administration, it seems like the the the general narrative in the country is more of divisiveness and and pushing an agenda that divides us, as opposed to one that unites us. So it's, it's impressive that we're still making strides to unite at least our members to, to the benefits of having a diverse workforce.

Michael Burch:

Yeah, I'd say, Joe, that that you hit the nail on the head, because of the last four years, the 45th administration appears to have given rise to allowing people to be more mean, more mean spirited, more divisive in their behavior on job sites, and just more demonstrative in terms of, you know, you're different. And so you don't belong here. Whatever that difference was right. However, it was interpreted. And so we, we have been trying to flip that script on its head one, we have a female EST, we have Evelyn Shapi o, who came out with a black lives matter statement. And s e in that statement admit ed that the union the carpe ters had contributed to keepi g, you know, people of color out and and that we ackno ledge that in order to move orward, we have to ackno ledge what we've done, right you cannot do things to peopl that are hurtful, and then ome together and try to move orward without ackno ledging that harm. So once the h rm is acknowledged, and that ives rise to moving forwa d, which is part of what Evely has done, she's given us permi sion to come together, unite and talk to each other about our differences and move forwa d, we have more in common than e do not. I mean, everyone wants a good job. Everyone who has a family wants to be able to take are of that family. Every ne wants to retire with digni y, you want your kids to go to good schools want to drive a veh cle that is safe, you want your our significant other to have vehicle, it's safe to drive So all of these things are w at make us similar. There are v ry few things that make us dissi ilar. And so uniting, which was part of the message that veryone had is TCP or had on Sa urday to delegate meeting, and t is acronym that I stole from omeone called hope, which is ho oring other people's exper ences, allows us gives us permi sion to listen, I can liste to you, Joe, and you talk about your experiences, you can liste to me and you know what they ay be, they may not be the same, chances are, they won't be the s me, because I'm black, and you'r white. But if we just liste , right, I think at the end o the day, what we find is we ha e more in common than we have issimilar. And the powers that e as long as they keep us divid d, they win. Just think for a minute, if 500,000 carpe ters in the US or the 6000 in Or gon came together for the same oal, which is to improve our w rk sites, to be nicer to each ther to collectively barga n, we would be unsto pable, just in Oregon. So if yo think about 500,000, stron in the US, you know, we would own this market, we would own t e market, we'd be the best out t ere and we'd be together. And I mean, history shows that when e all came together, every ne working middle class folks women and kids and people of co or, that we win. It's, that' why I'm here. That's what I'm h ping to see before the end of th day, and I use that, you know, it's kind of loosely is that e come together as a group commo goals and just win this indus ry. We take market share, and w survive and we do better than urvive. we thrive in an indus ry in an era when we shoul be thriving instead of you k ow, divided and and liste ing to things that pull us apart instead of bringing us toget er. Sorry for that.

Joe Cadwell:

Well, that was that was great. I do agree it's about time we put the Unity back into our union. Yes, Michael, I've seen you for years now and my my time at PNC I really pushing the the voter registration and the get out the vote initiatives. We just had a pretty massive election in the beginning of November. And so why, why the big push to get our apprentices and get our carpenters registered to vote. What is the importance of that?

Michael Burch:

So yeah, for 10 years I've been showing up mostly on Mondays and Thursdays. days to get our apprentices and sometimes the continuing education folks registered to vote because things happen all the time in, in municipalities in the city and the county, in the state and nationally, things happen all the time, to us if we're not participating, and voting. So the easiest thing that we can do is to vote. The second thing that's necessary is to understand the things that negatively impact your ability to live safely, and to thrive in your community. And in United States. So if I can get everyone registered, that's the first step. And then I can say pay attention to these things that matter to your career path that matter to your school that matter to the county that you live in to your healthcare to your pension plan. You cannot impact the decisions that are made politically, if you're not registered to vote, you can complain about what's happening when decisions are made. But if you didn't vote, john trainers used to say talk to the hand, right? It's like our, our, when our contracts come up, for our members to bid on, they come up with a tentative agreement, they put it in front of the members, and less than 10% of the membership vote on contract to see that. And if I was a contract, I'd go we could say whatever we want to because that, you know, the members don't even care about what's on their paycheck. And I used to use that example. Right. When we have contract. tentative agreements on the table of members, only eight or 9% of the membership would vote on what are you complaining about? Did you vote? Well, no, I didn't want them, you know, how we affect change is to affect the political decisions that are made and how we do that as being registered in sufficient numbers so that people know when they push things like right to work on organized labor, that it's going to be voted down because sufficient number of us are registered and we will vote to ban those attacks, like you mentioned, with right to work attacks on our prevailed wage safer work sites. They're constant. And we definitely do need to unite to be able to push back against those writings, initiatives and efforts. So I've always admired your tenacity doesn't seem to be working out. Do the apprentices, at least at PNCI, it seems like the numbers are beginning to grow. As far as registered voters. Yes, the numbers have grown. And you're right. If we ever let our guard down, if we ever think, you know, I've heard it before, like I'm only one vote, it doesn't matter. It does matter. One vote matters. And when you put that one vote together with the other, you know, 6000 votes that we have in the state of Oregon, it's going to make a difference. And more and more people are registered. Pardon? I think in part, thanks to the motor voter registration. In Oregon, when you renew your license or you get your driver's license, you're automatically registered, they don't pick your party. And I think that that party choice is part of what, you know, sort of keeps some members at bay. It's like they think well, you just vote for Democrats. No, we're nonpartisan, organizers organization votes for folks, regardless of their party if they support our issues. So that's the message, it's education, right for the members. First you get registered to vote and then you pay attention to the things that matter, and then you vote.

Joe Cadwell:

I agree. And I'm gonna have to say the voter registration in the state of Oregon comes in a close second after your personal crusade. From my observation. It's good that you gave him some some credit there. Thanks. Awesome. So where does the future lie for us as an organization and trying to get become more inclusive?

Michael Burch:

I think that we are on the right track. I think that in the the meetings that I participate in now, the carpenters have set the bar pretty high. We have our own positive jobsite culture training. For the apprentices we have an estp that understands at a granular level, how women are treated and how people of color are treated. And she understands what we need to do in order to be leaders in the industry and she's shepherding us in that direction. things that are happening within the council the the many boards and committee missions that I'm on to help uplift our name. And the work that we do is bringing more people in our industry has a ways to go in terms of how positive jobsite culture is actually brought to each one of these work sites that we have the general corporate, the general construction companies at the top, they get it. But of course, it's like safety, it needs to go, you know, from the top to the bottom and back up to the top again and continue to be brought up until everyone gets it. Right. The the gender biases, the implicit bias the the outright racism, the nooses that are found on job sites, we need to get past that we need to make sure that people who want to do these kinds of things don't feel okay to do it. Historically, they've done it and it's been like, Oh, well, somebody just you know, somebody's idea of a joke. Actually, a new solid jobsite is an assault, it's a crime that the police should be called for. And just, you know, there's just so much stuff going on right now, Joe, that is taking us towards a better industry, taking us towards a better culture on a job sites, that there's a, I'd like to say it's not me, but it's not quite a tsunami. But there's a movement towards being more inclusive, and having more to say to people who do things that antagonize others, there's a movement towards making that better for everyone. I can feel it, I can see it. Just about every meeting I attend, that kind of conversation is happening.

Joe Cadwell:

And I can see it as well as well. Michael, this has been a great conversation, where can people go to find out more information about collective bargaining agreements, or wanting to help out with finding more diversity in our in our crafts.

Michael Burch:

So I would say that there's Sisters in the Brotherhood meeting, there's the carpenters in action. There's the Veterans in the Brotherhood, those are all places where you can show up, and just, you know, say what's on your mind and, and become part of something you these meetings are set up so that you show up and talk about what's going on in the industry. And if there's something personal to you, you can bring that up and say I want to get involved, and they will help you do so. There's also a site that is CBANW.com, which is stands for community benefits agreement Northwest, com. It's a website that we put together years ago that just talks about the details of a community benefits agreement in who the partners are, and what the goal is and what the results of those two other projects work.

Joe Cadwell:

Well, that's great. I'll make sure to add those hyperlinks to the show notes again, Michael birch, it's been a pleasure having you on the show. Thank you very much.

Michael Burch:

Thank you, Joe, for the opportunity to talk to you outside of your Council President role. And to the members. I hope people learn something from Thank you.

Joe Cadwell:

Our guest today was Michael Burch. For more information on CBA'S diversity i the workplace or positive jobsite culture training, or for a transcript of our conversation. Be sure to check out the show notes from today's episode. If you haven't joined grid nation yet, it's easy to do just follow the hyperlink in the show notes you'll be entered to win an official high viz "I'v Got Grit" t shirt as well s receive additional perks on y available to grid nation membe s when you do Well that wraps p this episode. As always, tha k you for your support making Gr t Northwest such a success. Ti l next time this is Joe Cadwe l reminding you work safe, wo k smart and state union stro